A THIEF AMONG STATUES
Annick Press / 72 pages / (June 1, 1993)
By this time, I hope you’ve been able to find a copy of Life On Mars and you’ve begun enjoying the wonderful work of author Donn Kushner. If you haven’t embarked on a read of his child-to-adult books, you are only cheating yourself. I still count Life On Mars as one of the most beguiling stories I have come across in my years in science fiction.
Perhaps, Life On Mars was not quite to your tastes; I said it was “charming” — maybe charming is not your ideal. All right, give a try to something with a more somber theme. Here is A Thief Among Statues and it’s quite different. Plus, if you want to take little steps here: it’s only 72 pages long. A mere morsel.
Brian Newgate is a refugee of World War I, sent with scores of orphaned and abandoned children from Britain to Canada as part of an effort to replace the young men killed in battle. Judging by the families he is placed with, I think life alone on the streets is looking pretty good. But haven’t there always been people who see nothing wrong in taking advantage of the tiny voices and powerlessness of children?
After he is accused of theft and threatened with dire punishment, there is a rush of relief when Brian finally goes on the run.
Forging through the snow, he finds himself in a village where he hides in the warmth of a church. He also finds himself talking to two wooden statues he discovers hidden away behind boards. The statues tell him a tale of wonder and loss, and command him to complete a seemingly impossible assignment.
Following their orders means Brian will face the dangers of freezing and of being discovered. If the task is completed, he may overcome the stigma of being a thief. There is even a chance that he will learn what his future holds. He accepts the challenge.
The strange places this quest takes him and the amazing things he finds are the highlights of A Thief Among Statues. Kushner injects gentle humour into this traditional folk tale. Humour, whatever the subject, is one of the many talents of Kushner. It might provoke a laugh or a smile, but it shines in his writing.
Some readers will see this as a cautionary tale to discourage Brian’s kind of behaviour in their own children. Some will see it as a gift of magic to add to their own repertoire of bedside stories. It can even be a look at one moment of Canadian and British history, for those who were unaware of the situation of the “Home Children.” For any reader, it is an adventure. For me, use it as a chance to question the way humanity and history have treated the most vulnerable among us.
Read it from whatever mindset you choose, but read it. Read anything of Kushner’s that you have a chance to enjoy.
His is a warm and gentle voice that will welcome you in and teach you a few things. Take advantage of that opportunity.